Appeasing the gods of dumpster diving

Recently, we were eating lunch on the front porch with J, the young woodworking genius who’s helping us whip the house into shape this summer. He told us that on his latest dumpster-diving expedition he’d found a good coffee table with a bad paint job, and so he was wondering if he could borrow our sander and some space in our yard to fix it up sometime. “OF COURSE,” we said.

In the seven years since Dylan and I moved away from our families, countless friends, mentors, and other assorted pseudo-parental-types in our circle have done these kinds of favors for us. Now, quite suddenly, we found ourselves in a position to help someone else. It. Felt. So. Good.

We got to talking, sharing a bit of what we’ve learned about negotiating that tricky conundrum of having taste you can’t afford. “First you go dumpster diving,” Dylan said. “Then you start going to thrift stores. Then when you REALLY get fancy, you hit the outlets and scratch & dent places.”

“And when you graduate beyond all that,” I said, “you can go to the semi-annual sales at the real, live CHAIN stores.” I looked at Dylan wistfully; we’ve got miles to go before reaching that point. “Someday, Sweetie,” I said.

We felt all smug and proud, the couple on the other side of their twenties who would induct this youngin’ into yuppiedom, or something like it. (Who can afford to be a yuppie anymore, really?)

I thought of J last week when we moved out of our student-ghetto apartment and into this promised land, this house we’ve been slaving over for months.

It being the end of summer, our old neighborhood was a complete disaster. The particle-board and pine effects of twenty-somethings—ruins of what Douglas Coupland dubbed “semi disposable Swedish furniture”—overflowed from dumpsters and curbsides as far as the eye could see. As soon as the orange-jumpsuited workers left in their giant, belching trash trucks, the students descended from their buildings with even more crap, undoing the job all over again within hours. A Sisyphean public-works nightmare.

Of course, there’s the occasional gem out there in the mess—a bit of real wood furniture, like J’s table. We used to be pretty good about capitalizing on this predictable freebie buffet, but not so much in recent semesters. Guess we hate moving so much that we’re content to ignore its presence altogether when it’s not our problem….

But oh, this time around we were all over it. We had a moving mindset, a moving truck, AND a bigger place that could actually hold the fruits of our urban hunter/gatherer outings.

And so it was that we scored this beauty. Emblazoned on the front was a homemade sign: “FREE TV! WORKS!” And again, we felt smug. Proud. Thrilled.

Dylan’s parents drove out to help us move in, and we did it all in a day. One VERY long and VERY hard day. Both the apartment and the house were in serious need of a Mr. Clean rubdown. And, since all the DIY’ing had put moving on the back burner, we’d failed to pack much ahead of time, or to even scare up adequate moving boxes. So toward the end, we were schlepping our stuff down from our third-floor unit IN GROCERY BAGS. It was miserable.

When it was all over, late that night, we hosed ourselves off and collapsed around our new living room with a bottle of rum and a few espresso cups that my father-in-law unearthed from the wreckage of boxes and bags (he rawks!). We did a few celebratory shots before crashing hard, sleeping deeply in an apartment-weary soul’s heaven.

The next few days were low-key and sort of fun—unpacking, futzing, nesting. I was particularly motivated because I was eager to start dressing like a girl again, and my summer wardrobe was still at large.

But as the pile of boxes shrank, I started to worry, and when I reached the last one and found only Dylan’s shoes, an image came to me in a flash—a desperate, 11th-hour packing blunder. I was sure of it.

I had packed my clothes in a garbage bag.

It started to sink in: By now, the contents of that bag could only have been absorbed through the dumpster-diving collective and into some random chick’s closet—or, even worse, into the bloody landfill. Suddenly, all my smugness, pride, and thrill were gone. Gone away.

The only thought that’s kept me from crying through this ordeal: The gods of dumpster diving have given of their bounty to us so generously over the years, and we’ve done nothing but take, take, take. So perhaps it was time to make a sacrifice. Perhaps my favorite blouses, tees, pedal pushers, and skirts—yes, even that perfect, black pencil skirt I scored at Gabriel Brothers for $12—sufficed as a modern-day stand in for the proverbial slain goat.

Much as I hated to admit it, I realized those gods deserved every last thread of this offering, and so much more. And I knew it was time to tell J to find another mentor. Clearly we had much to learn.

Yesterday, Dylan and J began moving all the tools and other assorted DIY accoutrements down to the basement. And wouldn’t you know it: In the dining room, at the bottom of a pile of demo debris, were two boxes labeled “CLOSET.”

I am one happy, snazzily dressed homeowner.

I’ve decided my next writing project will be a classified ad. I’ve only got two words so far.

“WANTED: Goat.”

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